Wednesday, April 28, 2010

If I Had ...

I should be writing about D&D, and participating in my online blog; but instead I feel a deep, unqualified fury. And I have to post about it.

I see something like this and I find myself remembering Bruce Cockburn:

"Here comes the helicopter - second time today
Everybody scatters and hopes it goes away
How many kids they’ve murdered, only God can say
If I had a rocket launcher...I’d make somebody pay.”
Wikileaks, who found, decoded and released the video, calls it ‘collateral murder.’ And they are dead right.

As it happens, this particular video identifies the quality of ‘heroes’ ... and the worshipful status of homeland soldiers ... from the United States. The origin of these soldiers is the least significant thing about the video - except that, to be these soldiers, they need to be from a qualitatively technological war state, one that can afford billion dollar helicopters capable of delivering instant death to anyone walking the streets with a shoulder strap. If you walk the streets in an occupied country (and what country isn't?), don’t carry anything - particularly anything that might have the shape of a tube or a black box. To do this is to award any soldier high in the air a warrant for justifiable homicide.

The youtube copy of this video (which may not be there tomorrow, because seriously, who expects youtube to keep it on their site?) includes a comment from just that sort of person who watches this and smugly confirms the justice in it:

"... As far as the crew was concerned they was (sic) part of an armed group that had a rocket launcher and Kalishnikovs and was shadowing a US unit in contact from the right flank. War is war ... I’m sure plenty would have done it better, in hind sight and not having to deal with the fog of war.” 
Yes, fog. Can anyone remember how it happens that sometimes a cop will kill a young child who is carrying around a toy pistol? I can’t recall any cop who afterwards will shrug, and mutter, “fog of street crime. What could I do?”

The video demonstrates that it took less than sixty seconds for these airmen to observe, interpret and ultimately confirm for themselves that what they had guessed at was precisely what they wanted to see. Men, in a street, who were easy targets. It is particularly telling that, when the men are concealed by the building early on - through no action of their own, but merely because the air vehicle was turning in a circle - the airmen grew furious and anxious, hating that they had to wait seconds for the targets to again come into view. It is evident when the targets do come into view again, that they are clearly paying no attention to this war machine making its rounds above them. Where then does this anxiousness come from? From itchy fingers and itchy souls, clearly.

Naturally, when they gain the confirmation they need to open fire - from commanders who see no more than the airmen can see - the butchery is accomplished in rather short order. It is nice to have the sort of tool that can lay down this level of groundfire, to do it from a comfortable place high above the screaming and the smoke, where the blood and the pain need not be quite so evident ... after all, backslapping is all the better accomplished without the distraction that would make someone question their motivations, or reconsider the higher value of what’s being done here.

Although, as it happens, someone has reconsidered those things.

Would that in creating the machine, we could create the responsibility necessary to use the machine ... something which in this case has been the product of typical military thinking: “this is my helicopter, this is my cock ... and I use them for the same fucking thing.”

If you are reading this, and you are or have been in the military, please do not write a comment to defend the position of war, or of the importance of killing the enemy before the enemy kills you. Watching this, I wanted the cool, comforting sight of a rocket trail to rise out of the clouds and blast these fucking airmen into another state of existence. If there had been an enemy, I wish sincerely that they had brought along a Strela 2, to aid them in carrying their wounded from the battlefield ... a long held consideration granted in war by civilized persons. For those people who would fight a total war, or for those people who would answer on this blog condoning a total war, I will hold tightly to my wishes for rocket launchers to be standard equipment for mastering you.

If, on the other hand, you are or have been in the military, and you have the heart of many of those I have met, you are hanging your head in abject and unmitigated shame, for what your profession has become, for what your service is now tainted by, and for what failures you and your fellow participants in previous wars have brought about in making this a military practice condoned by any trained officer anywhere in the world.

Do not promote to me the sacrifices soldiers make for my country.

Monday, April 26, 2010


If you are following my online campaign (and there’s no reason you should be), you will have just witnessed a thud as a major plot became evident at the instigation of the character - you can see it here. Basically, it has just been revealed that events happening last year, that involved opening a hellgate in the town of Dachau (and which had the characters taking a peripheral part in) was all to arrange for two dopplegangers to be placed into the roles of town mayor and - what is not stated on the link - the chief of the guard.

I have been sitting on this plot point for more than a year ... literally, since I began arranging the reveal, which just happened, with a post I wrote on February 25, 2009. In that post, I included a quite common bit of description (spelling corrected):

”And above that, a third notice, which reads, “The Lord Mayor’s election is to take place on the 24 May 1650. The following citizens have been nominated to date: The competant Lord Mayor Martin Folkes. The competant Councillor Erich Kinski. The competant Patrician Eduard Johannsen. The experienced Patrician Eberhardt Hornung.”
Therein began the tale. All four of the gentlemen have been accounted for, and the party has been adroitly moved into the political sphere of one of them. When I ran this campaign, with other people, last spring, I dropped bits and hints from time to time … but it would have been very hard to see just what I was doing behind the scenes, just from those hints. If the party had seriously chosen to investigate, there would have been stronger clues. But it never happened that way.

If the one character in the campaign, Delfig, had not returned to Dachau, chances are that I would never have revealed any of this, EVER. That is the thing about a sandbox campaign:

Sometimes, you never get to know.

As a writer, I am mentally sitting on a number of plots that I have never written, for novels that I plan to write someday, and even for novels which I have given up on and which I will never write. I think about what a particular character will do, and how points A and B will come together … and as a novelist, it is my work, my art, to carefully install the various complicated clues into a work in order that when the reveal comes in chapter 17, the reader will think, “Ahhhhhh!”

Where D&D is mainly different is that, most of the time in my sandbox campaign, I’m not able to make the reveal. I set the clues, I add the various descriptions here and there - they are in turn ignored or forgotten by the party - and I am all ready to show that the small insignificant scribbling on the third floor of the house where three goblins were killed was really a sign that will lead the way directly to …

When the party changes its mind, loads up and leaves town, and never finds out what that scribbling was all about.

This would, I imagine, drive most people to drink. I find, however, I am enormously comfortable with it.

I simply put that little piece of information on the shelf, where one day I may get to use it again somewhere else, or where I may forget about entirely. Or I may, like the books I have conceived of but which I will never write, take the thing down again while I’m sitting at a bus stop or waiting for a film to start. I’ll roll it over in my mind and wonder if it was really as good as it could have been. I’ll investigate the angles and try to improve on them. And when I’m satisfied that it’s taught me something, I’ll put it back and move on.

Nothing worthwhile is ever wasted. Even if I am the only one who will see it.

There are other combinations of clues and connections which I have in mind, both for my online parties and for my offline. Some of these I will carry right to my grave. Some of these I will think about explaining to someone, somewhere - because I like them that much. Most of the time that I do that, however, I find myself a bit dissapointed with the response. I think they’re good reveals. Within the framework of an adventure, I’m sure the party would find them good reveals. But outside that framework -

Well, they are just plot points. No big deal. Just another bit of another story, where the listener has nothing invested.

Just now, if the gentle reader has not been following the campaign, very little will be thought of in terms of the emotional effect that Delfig is undergoing, right now.

But to Delfig - that “Ahhhhh” moment was everything.

I am wondering how it will come out.


I had wanted to emphasize more upon how it is that a DM must keep hidden many of the twists, turns and so on that are in his or her brain when running a sandbox campaign rather than a single-shot adventure - how keeping mum can last for months, even years ... but I suppose I concentrated too much on the event at hand.  Overall, I had wanted to start a discussion on why its best to keep our mouths shut.  Even when that's hard to do.

Friday, April 23, 2010

I Won't Always Lose

Between the discussions about creating adventure hooks and how to run a sandbox, there’s something I’ve failed to mention. Yes, it is true that in one capacity, as DM I act as blind justice ... but there is another role that a DM must perform.

I am the enemy.

Where it comes to the party competing to survive, it does well to remember that part of the responsibility of the DM is to create circumstances in which the party will not survive.  This is not to say that I would deliberately kill a party, out of the blue ... but now and then it happens that a series of decisions that a party makes leads them either to success, or to death.  As a DM, I am responsible for creating both possibilities.

It is not merely creating a maze for rats that leads them to cheese.  It is not even that some parts of the maze have little razor blades that will cut off the occasional rat's head (that kind of trap occurs, of course, but it is heavy handed and not what I'm talking about).  It is that occasionally as DM I'm entitled to play mind games that will increasingly lead the rat further and further into parts of the maze where there may be no hope of ever finding the cheese - and players have to protect themselves against that.

Many DMs will present a sort of game that is similar in design as a parent teaching a child to play chess.  The moves are shown, but the parent is careful not to win too handily.  The parent intentionally makes false moves, to encourage the child.  Gradually, the parent draws the child further along, encouraging the child's interest, until the child is ready to play 'for real.'

But for many D&D campaigns, 'for real' never actually happens.  Many DMs cannot bring themselves to kill characters ... even if the character well and truly deserves to be killed.  Instead, change after change is made to the campaign, like a DM making false moves, until the DM successfully 'loses' ... as that is really the point for many people who play this game.  That the DM should lose.  Philosophically, everyone loses if the players don't 'win.'

True enough.  But I don't agree that the DM should play with the intention of losing.  I don't want my campaign to descend into a series of false moves that encourage the success of the child.  The players in my game are not children, and they ought to know what they are doing when they make decisions.  I urge them to remember that somewhere, at some point down the line, I absolutely will kill them.  No matter how much they love their characters, no matter what level their characters are, no matter how I know them personally or what effect that might have emotionally.  This is a game.  And I will, if I am pushed into a corner by a player's continued bad playing, well and truly kill that player without remorse.

I repeat: I am the enemy.  The player plays against Me, when he or she plays in my world.  I am the force of nature that must be overcome.  I will always provide the opportunity for the players to make the right moves - and indeed, to make right moves that I never conceived of, as more often happens.  But I am perfectly conscious of what is the wrong move, and when it is made, the game is lost.

If the game cannot be lost, there is no game.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Parental Abandonment

“Single Parent Rule:” RPG characters with two living parents are almost unheard of. As a general rule, male characters will only have a mother, and female characters will only have a father. The missing parent either vanished mysteriously and traumatically several years ago or is never referred to at all. Frequently the main character’s surviving parent will also meet an awkward end just after the story begins, thus freeing him of inconvenient filial obligations.

The last three words are the kicker - parents, and family in general, are plainly something that we'd like to ditch where it comes to our imaginations.  Good thing, too, since Mom probably wouldn't approve of gouging out that goblin's skull and using it and your favorite dagger to play snag-the-eye-socket when things get dull.  When I write novels I tend to whack off both my protagonists parents before the story starts, mostly because I don't like my own parents and I'm not interested in creating an ersatz functional family.  It helps my characters retain their rugged lone wolf natures, people going it alone with a fuck-you attitude towards others.  Much like any group of D&D players.

I pretty much hate family stories, in film or literature, since they tend to be very preachy.  RPGs are proof-positive that players believe happiness can be obtained without needing family ... either the one that spawns us, or one we might spawn.  I offer this piece of advice, as something the gentle reader should never do as a DM: if you want to curse a female character in a party, make her pregnant.  The player will not be amused.  And that, dear friends, is a social commentary on many, many levels.

(I did have a player who did get married, and did have children, and the campaign running long enough for that player's children to grow into young adults.  But this is extraordinarily rare in my experience).

In recognition that we in western society clearly hate our parents and will happily identify with orphans and abandoned children in film after film, have a look at the truly impressive list of children's stories, from Disney, Pixar and Don Bluth, where parents are non-existent or clearly an afterthought.  This goes on and on, in live action children's films as well as animations ... we are programmed from the age of four to fantasize about discarding our parents.  Why, look at the three great children's stories of English literature: Peter Pan, the Wizard of Oz and Alice of Wonderland.

Adventure begins when the parents are gone.

That's really all I have to say on the subject.  I can hardly encourage players to think more about their imaginary mothers and fathers, now can I?  Who would, anyway?  I mean, unless your father is the King of the Land ...

But then a thought does occur to me.  What would anyone say to a starting adventure for a party being the intentional murder of the character's rich, wealthy parents, in order to usurp the family business, or merely to obtain for themselves a nice compensation.  Yes, that's right Marvolo ... your father is rich, very rich, and he has been a bastard to you all your life - your mother too!  Don't you remember, your mother killed your dog Rex ... and fed his to the corpse to the pigs?  For ten years, you've hated them, despised them, thought of all you could do with their money.  And now today, this very morning, your master has declared there's nothing else he can teach you.  Today you are a first level thief!


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Civil Service

Ah, the bureaucracy. The force against change. The body of creatures that comes into existence as the size of the state expands, and who are needed to communicate the commands of the state’s overlords to the people - and in turn, to see to it that those commands are followed. And if they are not followed, then it is also the bureaucracy’s purpose to bring down punishment.

A hideous entity, as we all know far too well. This is the face of the government, for whom we do not vote and towards whom there is little sympathy or affection when it happens that they “are just doing their jobs.” It is, probably, fairly unpleasant work - which helps explain why people untainted with any humanity manage to find themselves part of the cogs and wheels that crush out the happiness of poor citizens such as ourselves.

My apology to any civil servants reading this. Pffft. Like there would be.

Any large political entity is greatly dependent upon its civil service, and even in terms of medieval cultures, those empires or political states possessed of a great bureaucracy stood head and shoulders above the anarchy of their enemies. Venice’s civil service was markedly greater than Genoa’s (the reason given is typically the demand for greater civil engineering on Venice’s part). The Ottoman Empire’s bureaucracy was profoundly organized - the Vizier, the master of the bureaucracy, would become nearly the equal of the Sultan within the state. China, of course, became the behemoth of bureaucratic states - where the civil service grew to such eloquence and far-reaching power that it strangled the state’s vitality. And it is understood that Poland’s steady demise from the vast kingdom that occupied much of Eastern Europe is understood to result from a failure to develop any proper bureaucracy. Tax collectors, inspectors, adjudicators, officers, recruiters, ministers and scribblers cannot be dispensed with where it comes to managing the people, the maintenance of empire, armed forces, courts, infrastructure and so on. No matter how you see it, the state cannot operate otherwise.

But where are these people in D&D?

There are always guardsmen and soldiers. And taxes are collected. And a city ordinance or two might not permit a player to carry a weapon within the confines of a town. But quite honestly, a DM would rather there was no such thing as a bureaucracy. It gets in the way of, well, everything.

Hell, even a bar fight would be more fun if the town didn’t get involved.

There is a strongly held philosophy by many players of D&D - that if it represents something we don’t like about the real world, we don’t want it as part of the game. “I am not here,” would say a number of players, “because I like reality.”

This would be the strongest argument against incorporating any sort of bureaucratic influence into your campaign. Do not, the argument would go, saddle my fun with restrictions created on how I might arm myself, or move freely about the kingdom, or the largest city of that kingdom. Do not fetter me with unnecessary taxations - an occasional toll or fee is fine, but don’t ask my character to add up all of his worth and pay a property tax! Do not insist that I explain my actions or behaviours to government lackeys or insidious officials who demand to know why I’ve decided to fortify my recently purchased inn with chained monsters or rocket firing ballista. Put no courtiers or other bootlicks between me and the local sovereign, nor guilds between me and whatever monopoly I wish to impose upon the local community. I am here to have fun, damn it! I am not interested in wasting my time with a lot of inconvenient paperwork and calculation. This is supposed to be fantasy, is it not?

Yes, I guess it is.

For many people who dream that their fantasy might incorporate a little more thinking and a little less bloody mayhem, I’ve no doubt that they fail to see how the above position does little to help. Of course, many like bloody mayhem - and are prepared to play week after week with that and nothing else. My present party and its ongoing mass battle would be - I hope - a temporary example (woe to me if they get a taste for it), as it has been going on since January. In such a case, frivolities such as state business goes very far to getting in the way of all that fun.

But if you would have intrigue, the gentle reader could do no better than to incorporate a little bureaucracy into the campaign. There is little need to bribe anyone if all the doors are open, no? And for what reason do you spy, if there are no carefully collected papers gathered, if no special bureau exists that will create, store and conceal said papers? What is the value of an overheard word between two knowledgeable servants of the state, if there is nothing more to the state that taking in taxes and giving it to the army?

It is a difficult point to make, but hear me out. A character’s sheet will explain all that the character is able to do, and that is augmented by all that a character is able to plan. But a campaign is not predicated upon what a character can do, but upon what that character cannot do. When you create a closed door, you create a desire to pass through that door. When you create an inconvenient, abusive and seemingly all powerful authority, you create the desire to resist that authority. All that is necessary to boil the blood of your players is one simple answer, to all they wish to accomplish:

Say NO.

No, you can’t do this because this group does not allow it. No, you cannot travel there, it isn’t permitted. No, you are not allowed to wear this, only sanctified people may. No, you can’t. No, you’re not good enough. No. No. No.

Say this enough times and you will create a frustrated, angry group of players who may - if they have no imagination at all - quit playing in your world. And you may find it necessary, upon telling the party 'no' one more time, to have some fellow a few feet away, hiding in a doorway, say: “psst ... want to get in?”

Bureaucracies make the best villains. No one minds when they get torn down.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Still Loving Combat

Before reading this, you'll want to go here.  You'll find the pictures here much clearer.

It's my offline party urging me to write this post - I would probably just forget about it, because this is a fair bit of formatting to get this ready ... but what the hell.

Here is the mass combat at the end of Round Four:

Something bad has happened; the end of the third round showed a group of men, at the bottom of the map, rushing towards the south wall with ladders.  This image shows those men largely obliterated, some of them shown in white to indicate they are stunned and unable to do anything.  A fireball exploded in the middle of them, and so much for that assault.

The elves in the bottom left still waiting for the rush of hobgoblins from the SW Gate.  The mastodon (Pony) and the 7th level ranger, Fayln, mounted upon her hippogriff are managing to hold off the mass of goblins centering in on them, plus one cavewight (much like an ogre) and a yellow figure marked 'Prince.'  This last is a drow elf (I don't play night/day rules for drow).

The interesting part of the battle is what is going on at the N Gate ... where all hell is breaking loose.  The cavalry which hit the goblins in round 3 are pulling out now (the leader, marked Neema, is a 5th level paladin).  Meanwhile, hobgoblins that were on the wall have leaped to the ground (it is a wooden wall, 12' high); and goblins are still streaming from the main gate - although the druid, shown as Pikel, has warped wood to force the gate to remain open, so that when the goblins are killed the gate can be entered freely.  Over the next ten rounds, he will wonder about this strategy ... but there was no way to warp the gates shut, for once he was close enough to warp them, they were already open.  Meanwhile, the cavewights have dropped off the wall and are attempting to flank the party on the party's left.

At the SE Gate, the dire wolves are playing havoc with the zero levels ... this is just the beginnings of that combat.

Now, there were some technical errors when it came to saving files at this point; accidentally saving over files or failing to save at all.  So this next round is technically halfway through round 6 - so the party has gone twice since the last map, but the enemy has only gone once.  Thus the enemy are about to move:

The remnants of the ladder carriers, led by the 9th level lord of the forces aiding the party, and his 7th level cleric henchman, now rush towards the elves to help them against the hobgoblins.  If the reader will notice, midway up the map on the left is a figure, Penn, who is a 6th level illusionist, also moving to help the elves ... so things are not as dark there as they may seem.

Midway between the elves and the mess at the N Gate, the glaivers who have been hurrying all this time have finally reached the hole left behind by the mastodon.  Fayln and Pony continue to fight the good fight.  Some of the cavalry have gotten bogged down fighting hobgoblins in front of the wall ... three pass through the glaivers as they rush forward.  The rest of the cavalry have reformed and are now rounding outside the walls, looking for their next charge.

At the N Gate, the 1st level mage (Falcon) has managed to sleep two cavewights and two others, relieving some of the pressure ... the line grows longer, as the remaining enemy continue their attempt to outflank the good guys.  This is the sort of thing, I think that would be very difficult to portray using most mass combat rules.

Note the single figure, Ivan, to the left of the combat at the north gate.  This is a 6th level thief, who has managed to successfully hide in shadows (no need to move silently) and is going quite unnoticed.  He's about to do something stupid.  Please take note the group of slingers who were upon the wall, who have now leapt off and are hurrying to provide support for the enemy ...

As it happens, at the SE Gate, that party is doing quite well with the dire wolves.  In addition, the party's 8th level mage (transformed with a candle of invocation into 10th level), Garalzapan, has let go a fireball at the E Tower - and eliminated everyone there except for one lone goblin (who happens to be 7th level, and now quite weakened).  As such, the mage is no longer invisible.

This next map is the end of the 8th Round, so there have been 2 and a half rounds passed since the last map:

Starting as ever with the bottom left, a group of slingers has dropped off the south wall and have been harrassing the blue-colored humans fighting with the elves.  However, they have managed to kill a goodly number of hobgoblins (the Lord breaking his arm in the process).  This has resulted in a few more hobgoblins, all they could spare, rushing forward from the wall - and even if this doesn't wipe out the elves, it will prove to keep this group busy for awhile.

Some evil has befallen the Ranger; she failed a save vs. Hold person, and is now struck immobile.  Her hippogriff, 'Hathor', defends her body, but a hobgoblin champion (7th level) has moved in for the kill.  Meanwhile, Pony has been reduced to 2/3rds of its hit points, beset by two cavewights, and although the glaivers are pushing through the wall they are finding themselves beaten down by the Prince, who is attacking twice a round now.

As well, note a yellow figure to the right and lower down from Hathor, marked 'Queen' ... this is the frightful figure in this keep, another drow elf of indeterminate level.

This brings us to Ivan, who has chosen to approach the tower, and to climb it, intending to slaughter the hobgoblin crossbowmen inside.  Crazy.

The line at the N Gate has gotten longer, and finally the hobgoblins and goblins are successfully working around the line of glaivers.  Much of the force of the party is dependent upon the bard (Lyrial), whose playing through this has given +1 to hit and damage for the party, and -1 to hit and damage for the goblins, hobgoblins and cavewights ... but that is starting to slip.

Now, while it appears that the cavalry is running away, in fact they are simply slowing and wheeling - this is the first part of the turn.  At the speed they were going they could not turn more than 60 degrees a round ... but now the front has slowed to a crawl, and it readying itself.  Note the three cavalry from before who freed themselves in the 6th round have been struggling to catch up with the main body.

And finally, the dire wolves are mostly gone.  The mage is moving forward so that he will be in range to caste pass wall, which will open up the interior of the fort to the party`s attack (particularly the zombie`s under the control of the party`s sixth level dwarven cleric, Widda).

Very well, one more round, and then I am spent: this is the end of the 9th round:

Still the elves are fighting hobgoblins, and not much has changed.  The slingers on top of the hill to the right of the elves are keeping those four pinned down ... it just takes too long to climb the hill, and the cleric is attempting to restore to consciousness one of the others.  But although the battle looks like its ground down, things are about to shift against the hobgoblins (the Lord`s bad luck can`t run forever).

Inside the fort, on the west wall, the glaivers are still being chewed up by the Prince, while the ranger Fayln is getting very nervous.  It doesn`t look like the glaivers are going to reach her in time, does it?  Note that the Queen has paused, and hasn't moved from her place.  Heh, heh, heh.

The slaughter continues unabated at the N Gate, on and on ... with no seeming end to goblins rushing out to be ground down.  But steadily, the party is winning on the right flank, and losing badly on their left.  It looks now like things are sliding out of control ... ah, but look to the right!  Neema and the cavalry have turned around, and are now about to ride right at that group of slingers moving down the hill to support the enemy's right flank against the party's left.

And lastly, the SE group is mopping up the dire wolves and starting to move towards the wall.  Next to the mage, Garalzapan, it reads: "Throwing Pass Wall 1 round cast" ... very soon there will be an opening for the zombies to force their way through ...

And Still Again ...

Why quit now?

At the present, this does represent all those parts of the map which I have formatted; there is still an extensive area of the Arabian subcontinent, Pakistan, Afghanistan and a fair chunk of India which I had finished, but as of last summer I had decided to change the precise size of the hexes; I found to my chagrin, long after starting the map, that the hexes weren't quite symmetrical after all.  All that is shown on the map below has been formatted on the new hex design since last July.  As you can see, I was unemployed.

The 60-degree bend I've talked about on other posts is now very evident, particularly in the odd 'hook' made by the eastern end of the Mediterranean, up and around Anatolia (western Turkey).  As I've said, this does make the appearance of the map slightly odd - but it has no particular effect on campaigning.

The large blank area on the left side of the map, with a few pink blotches, is the empty Sahara desert, ringed on the north by the south shore of the Mediterranean.  The large pink area on the right side of the map is China.  The western end of the Himalayas can be seen in the purple mass at the bottom right ... this being the dividing line between Afghanistan (the north part of which is shown) and Sinkiang.  The empty white oval in the China part of the map is Takla Makan.

I particularly like that this map shows desert, more interestingly in the yellow splotch in the center, which is the Ust Urt Plateau and the Kara Kum Desert.  The two green lines going through the desert are the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya (Oxus) rivers.  Startling, are they not?  One of my favorite regions - D&D wise - is the patch of greenery on the south shore of the Aral Sea, the large blue body of water to the right of the Caspian ... assuming the gentle reader can identify the Caspian.  I realize than many are really not that familiar with the Earth.
I can say that I am much more familiar with the Earth now than when I began this map five years ago.  I have been explaining both on this blog and off it that map-making this fragment of the planet has been like adventure hiking from country to country.  This is for me, too, the first sight I've had of everything massed together into one file (so far as it has been up to now), and I'm just stunned.  But it is a bigger thing to me that now I have a remarkable conception on how all these lands fit together, not just geographically, but also in terms of how trade moves between one region and another.  The map above describes in intimate detail the various passes, river shortcuts, circuitous routes around deserts and so on ... I feel I have walked these very roads.  If I needed any inspiration to go on with this project, that would be enough.

So, it will probably be awhile before I'm able to be this impressive again.  Eventually I'll run out of ways to effectively show-and-tell.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Competence Zone

I'm enjoying writing these, so ...

"Logan's Run Rule:" RPG characters are young.  Very young.  The average age seems to be 15, unless the character is a decorated and battle-hardened soldier, in which case he might even be as old as 18.  Such teenagers often have skills with multiple weapons and magic, years of experience, and never ever worry about their parents telling them to come home from adventuring before bedtime.  By contrast, characters more than twenty-two years old will cheerfully refer to themselves as washed-up old fogies and be eager to make room for the younger generation.

Some weeks ago, upon attending the horrendous local convention, I did notice that the age of most players was upwards of thirty ... and quite a bit upwards of thirty.  My friend Carl of Three Hams Inn has written the same about PAX, but his blog doesn't seem to have an archive that I can search, so I can't find the relative post ... but you have to believe me.  The DM's all seem to be forty.  There are younger players out there, I'm sure - but they don't seem to make themselves known.  Even those players who drift through the local gaming store hereabouts seem, at their youngest, to be in their 20s (what the hell, they play 4e anyway).

So the cliche, at least in regards to RPG players identifying themselves as free teenagers who don't have to pay attention to their parents, seems something that applies to consoles.  Some of those 40-year-old players are probably still living in their parents basements - or, as in one case I know, in their parent's house now that the parents are dead - but they've moved past the rebellious stage.  They're doing their mom's laundry because it keeps mom happy.

However, yes.  Characters in the game are still very young.  I've never known anyone who started players at tenth level who suggested that those characters should be in, say, their thirties.  It is still assumed that these brand new tenth level characters are young - as seen by the artistic depictions of players.  My offline players are all in their early twenties, and massively into hardcore anime (the nasty stuff, where characters wash their hands in the guts of other characters - none of that Inuyasha shit), and so yes, all the depictions of their characters on their sheets or desktops are fourteen-year-old girls and guys.  It disappoints them when I say that their new mage is in his late thirties, or that the dwarven cleric is old.  But no matter - because they forget all that when it comes to playing their character anyway.

The whole issue is locked closely into the perception of charisma that goes along with the game.  Bad enough that virtually every depiction of a character is an image that has at least a 15 charisma (my online campaign subverts this, for the most part) ... but unquestionably, every character who speaks to an NPC does so with the expectation that they will be a) respected on account of their level; or b) respected on account of how carefully the player has decided to shape the words they use in roleplay.  Invariably, a 10-charisma character, speaking to the local innkeeper, will leap in with, "My good man, be a good fellow and see to it that my friends and I are set up with good drinks, a fair bit of entertainment and of course some excellent venison ... be quick and I'll ensure your efforts are well paid!"

No one wants to approach a bartender with, "Uh, I'm a ... I was thinking ... is the ale ... uh, good?  Can I get some?"

Some people, playing a 7 or lower charisma, might try, "Gods, what a dump. Got any ale that isn't piss?"  Which is, of course, fun - but this low-born loquaciousness immediately evaporates when the character is faced with someone, or something, capable of re-fashioning the character's spine into a deck chair.  Too much bad charisma is not good for one's health.

I think people would rather be beautiful, and they would rather be accepted as beautiful - and throughout the culture, young is beautiful.  Even the 40-year-old wants to be 16 again, this being a fantasy of older persons since forever - and in a way D&D, as it and the players age, becomes more and more a venue for that.  I would expect to see, in another twenty years, the game played in old age homes as a nostalgic way to get reacquainted with youth.  They learned it in high school ... when again they're forced into a social living environment, they can revisit the game again.

No doubt, a given portion of the population finds this cliche intolerable. I'm not one of them.  I am much more attractive in my mind than I am in reality, and as my forty-fifth year dwindles away I am much younger in my mind also.  I still view 22-year-old fetish fuel pump jockeys in leather and chain bikinis pretty much as I did twenty years ago ... only now, I know if I actually met one they'd look at me and think, "Why is that old fart hanging around here?"  Once upon a time, this would have been closer to, "What the hell does that geek want?"  So my expectations aren't any lower, they're just redirected.

Thus, I don't look at my player's representations of themselves and say, "Isn't that a little much, given that your face was cut up very badly in that run-in with the pedaphile treant?"  No, I just look at the image and say, "Cool."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Last night, I spent five hours playing an obscure, simple-graphics video game based entirely upon the difficulties of logistics - the game is Patrician III, and the point is to ship products from one city to another, occasionally battling pirates, building up the city populations and taking on quest-like missions. My particular history with the game comes from my peculiar fascination with logistics, and an effort to create a sensible, effective methodology for the movement of my ships. It is not as easy as it sounds. For the most part, I did not succeed last night, though I had a few new ideas (which all failed), and the result was pretty much a waste of my time ... that is how it felt when it ended, at any rate.

So why, the gentle reader might ask, should I bridle my intellect for the purpose of solving a private game, where there are so many things that need solving, and working upon, where it comes to D&D? I might ask that myself. The simple answer might be that I needed a rest from D&D, but on a profound level, I have to ask why that might be ... usually, when I am tired of a particular aspect of D&D (maps, my trade tables) I work on other aspects of D&D (reworking the spell lists, my biological monster table). These are the things I normally cut my teeth upon. They are what keeps my world from being a fragmented, irrational cacophony of rules, instead being a cohesive whole.

What I am saying is this: while it might be all very well for the reader to forgive me, or me to forgive myself, this is not how things get done. And getting things done is important to me. One might say I live for it.

The name of this blog, the Tao of D&D, has been given some small bit of criticism, in that the blog itself has done nothing to relate D&D to the traditional Chinese philosophy of the Tao ... which apparently some early readers were hoping I would do. Why, I can’t guess. True, D&D is as much as a manifestation of ‘tao’ as the corn on my mother’s left foot, but any attempt I might make to correlate the game, or indeed this blog, with the universal concept of yin and yang, or the pursuit of Te, would undoubtedly descend into the same sort of pretentious mess that I occasionally read elsewhere when people attempt to make such connections between Tao and home cooking, or Tao and the maintenance of motorcycles (book title notwithstanding), or Tao and NASCAR racing. I’m just not going to do it.

But before it was a philosophy, ‘tao’ was a word ... and I am pretentious enough not to call this blog ‘The Way of D&D’ when I have a perfectly good foreign word to use instead. Nyah.

D&D is a philosophy, however, to me at least. It is not a game. It is not a past-time, or something I do because I am unable to do something else that is held to be ‘cool.’ Nor is it something I do whimsically. I am not sure that I ever, from the first time I played, ever viewed this game in any way except dead seriously. To play this game is a way of making my mind think, upon established lines and within established boundaries. It is not something I do according to the dictates of others. It does not draw from me a deep and abiding respect for those who may have created the game, and it does not compel me to seek the respect of others. It is not those who play this game, it is the game itself. I would work on the game if there were no players. I would create tables if there were no dice to roll upon them.

As crazy as that might sound, I know there are others out there who understand me perfectly.

Philosophy is generally understood to be a manner by which one attempts to understand the universe - but I must argue that this is a position taken of philosophy only by a very small percentage of those people for who the subject matter is a living, breathing thing. That is because, having hit upon a particular understanding, it is human nature to run with it. To create a lifestyle, and to act in accordance with what is believed to be understood. A stoic does not spend his waking hours studying the values of stoicism against the values of other philosophies. No. One is a stoic, one acts as a stoic, one thinks as a stoic and one views the world as a stoic. There will likely be the pursuit of greater knowledge, knowledge that might cause one to put aside their stoicism and move on ... but in the meantime, the view of the world will be settled.

To state that again: I do not spend my waking hours considering the values of D&D against other pursuits; I am aware of other pursuits; in many cases, I give my time to those things also. But in many ways the principles of D&D and the principles of those other pursuits coincide. I am creating; I am ordering my world; I am sacrificing my time to make a better world; I am displaying the effort for the benefit of others in the way of performance; and I am taking the pleasure of that performance to myself, being made to feel complete by it. This is the same process I undergo when I am writing, when I am public speaking, when I am debating and yes, when I am participating in sex. I perform, and I submit to the performance of others. It is all part of the same continuity.

For those of you who might be reading this, wondering if I intended at all to write about the history of philosophy, or its application into the processes of the game itself, do not be alarmed. I have not finished yet.

If the gentle reader were to invent a culture of ‘D&D players’ to be placed imaginatively in a valley or an enclosed plateau, it would help very little to describe their number, or their facial features, or the color of their hair; it would be difficult to get the sense of how this culture behaved from descriptions of their history, or the art they enjoyed, or the common texts that they read. What would make the difference would be a description of how the interacted with each other: consciously gathering together in furtive groups, in which there was often much emotional unrestraint; violence stemming from arguments over the correct way to behave when in said little groups; and distrust of strangers or those who did not understand the purpose of said little groups. Few physical activities, none of which would be organized, and a dependence on some other peoples to provide this little culture with food and drink - which they would not cultivate themselves. Highly intellectual - but also highly dismissive of the ways of the world outside of their valley ... certainly a terrific hatred for particular varieties of social behaviour. We are describing here a necessarily isolated society, with rigorous social behaviour and yet a pervasive anarchy in terms of organization - and a dependent society, which could not expand easily, without falling prey to its own weakness. How might a party interact with such a culture?

Philosophy has been the impetus for the creation of cultures and micro-cultures (such as that described above), some of which have existed within the framework of traditional religions (the Jesuits, the Mennonites or the cabalists), and some completely outside of religion. In eastern culture, philosophy displaced almost entirely the influence of the polytheistic religions of China and elsewhere. Buddhism, which is far more a philosophy than a religion, swept like a fire through northern India and China a millennia before the differing philosophy of Islam would rewrite the Christian religion - the latter an example of religious philosophy at work.

This is the technological revolution represented by philosophy - the possibility to reshape a given culture in order to better fit the practices of its people to themselves or to their environment. Stoicism was a natural result of the increase in complex social systems; science the natural result of the increase in knowledge; and magic ... well, magic would be the natural result of the availability of power, would it not?

As you scan through the cultures of your world, as you have chosen them, reflect upon how an agricultural society would need to suit its outlook to its dependence upon the weather and upon water. Or how a hunting society would suit its outlook to its dependence on the moon (or moons) at night, and upon the difficulty in hunting whatever animals you’ve created for them to hunt. If mastodons, how does the massive supply of food change their habits, or their number? How would an isolated agricultural society perceive the arrival of strangers, as opposed to a hunting society. A hindrance, or a help? A drain upon their existing food, or the promise of more food? How are such conditions a reflection of how the society looks upon themselves ... charitably or heartlessly ... and how well is the reader, as DM, able to fully comprehend philosophies of life other than his own? It is that comprehension of other philosophies that makes for the best DM.

I say that I live for the game, but part of that is knowing that there are many cultures who do not - and they, too, must be represented in my game. Merchants must despise those who try to cut into their income; soldiers become superior and annoyed by the petty needs of citizens; musicians grow to love company that encourages them to play, while eschewing those who throw taunts; thieves want the easy pickings that come from corrupt societies; clerics want the easy donations that come from frightened and obedient societies; monks seek solitude and contemplation; assassins depend on chaos and distraction; where a society is on the ascendant, those who make havoc are persecuted violently; where a society is on the descendant, those who preach piety or tolerance are mocked and humiliated. There are hundreds of kinds of accepted, ‘normal’ behaviours, to be found in hundreds of social systems. Each philosophy for living in that system seems, to the people who inhabit the system, just and correct. The party is challenged when its perceptions of right and wrong falls opposite to that of the society they find themselves a part of.

This began with my discussing my five hours of fruitless problem solving. Well my life has been in large part the essaying of fruitless efforts - because I’m never sure when fruitless may become fruitful. None of the suggested perspective above will come easy ... because we are, as beings, locked into our philosophy. We are comfortable there because that is what we have found that works for us. Stepping out of that comfort, and challenging ourselves to create a world that is not like ourselves - that is bloody hard. Much harder than doing math for five hours. The sort of hard that makes your players stare blankly at you as you try to outline this mythical perception of the universe your NPCs have, like you’re a moron for proposing such a thing.

But ignore the look. Forget what the players think of your ideas. They are your ideas, and they deserve to be coddled along ... all the more so because they were NOT your ideas three days ago. And you are unfamiliar with them. And you’re not sure yet how to put them in the mouths of NPCs. No worries. This is the game. It forces you to learn new things, and to be things you never were before, and it forces you to do it in front of others.

I love this game.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Orphan's Plot Trinket

"Cubic Zirconium Corollary": The aforementioned mysterious girl will be wearing a pendant that will ultimately prove to be the key to either saving the world or destroying it.

How old is this?  Old.  When Plautus was writing Three's Company plays in the third century BCE, this was old.  (Seriously.  Three's Company.  Go look it up.)  And as it was good enough for a host of brilliant writers (including Victor Hugo or Somerset Maugham), I shouldn't go too far in dissing it here.  The plot device is just too damn useful ... and frankly, I wouldn't be above it myself.

I don't have any fault that a pendant would ultimately, somehow, make the difference in the adventure - but does it have to be the only exceptional bauble mentioned in the entire campaign?  Yes, this is a gem, and this is a necklace, and this is a pendant that is made of a substance you have never seen, with a weird and deeply compelling glow, that apparently serves no special purpose whatsoever.

Oh come on.  We're not idiots.

If you will use this device (and I encourage its use), please try to remember that repeating the presence of the item over and over tends to destroy the 'surprise' element that is inherent in the device's inclusion.  We don't need to be told every time the girl is mentioned that she is also wearing the pendant; it doesn't have to glow; it doesn't have to have any special characteristics at all.  In fact, don't even mention the thing, at least not until Act III, when it should be accidently discovered and given some purpose that actually closes the player's mind on the subject.

NOT, I might add, having it said that "Oh, this thing?  I don't know where it came from, or what it's for ... but I've had it since birth ..."

Why not just hang a neon sign around the girl's neck?  Try instead, "It's a piece off my mother's ring - pretty, isn't it?"  Say it with a really dumb voice and you might get that past the players.  Even, "I bought it three months ago for two gold pieces - the vendor said it wasn't real."  In other words, make the presence of the thing believable.  You are not, after all, Charles Dickens.

Here's another thought.  Make it a red herring.  Make the damn thing actually have no value whatsoever.  Then you can pump it up to your heart's delight, and laugh fit to kill watching the party trying to insert the thing into every crack and crevice from the top of the dungeon to the bottom.  Until finally they show it to the big bad at the end, who takes it and says, "This?  They sell these six for a copper in Xjjaytt!" before unconcernedly tossing it aside.

Sometimes there's no trouble with the cliche.  It's all in how it's played.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Just a pic to demonstrate what keeps me away from posting anything on some weekends.  A mix of pen-and-pencil and laptop dungeons and dragons.  The lap top at the far end of the table, with the additional monitor pointing at the party, is how I run.

This pic was taken during a break.  I am not depicted - those are the legs of my daughter's common-law husband, who has chosen to read a book while people scrounge food, grab a smoke, use the bathroom ...

Fair number of dice on the table.  Can't see mine.

I tell you what is there on the screen: the upper left corner of the goblin fort that the party is still fighting (and resolutely loving it) is the sort of purplish brownish patch ... the mass of blue above it is the party's cavalry, which has just stomped hell out of about fifty goblins.  Good times.

Bonus points for anyone who can identify the photographer of the picture in the back corner.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Never Satisfied

With shrinking, I was able to get more of the map into one saved jpeg.  Every little bit helps ... and the map below includes some of where one of the online parties has travelled (might help them consider that it took them three weeks to enter and leave Switzerland - the road to China, anyone?).

And yes, there is a big hole on the east side of the map. It has a lot to do with that it's generally easier to complete river sources before being able to complete the lower parts of a river.  So, much of the lower Ob and Yenisey basins I just haven't done, because I've been working on the big circle of mountains and uplands that give birth to those huge river systems.

This shows, now, 24 of the maps I've drawn out ... and the detail is definitely starting to decline.  That's a damn shame.

Does anyone understand now why I scoff at the Greyhawk map?

Incidentally, for the observant, you might really see now how that 60 degree turn in the map to keep with the curvature of the earth distorts the shape of Russia, just at the point where it meets Europe (specifically, the thrust of land between the Baltic Sea (mid-left) and the Black Sea (bottom left).


A complete list of all maps can be found here.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

It Is NOT A Small World

I thought I would try giving a greater impression of my world map, by shrinking the original segments and  joining them together - hopefully to display the overall image, which I have not in fact seen myself.

Wanting it to be large enough to thoroughly grasp the overall detail was, however, less that satisfactory ... I weep, for I haven't a computer - nor a program - powerful enough to save the complete file.  Even this, below, which represents only 12 of the map segments I've created (there are over sixty in total), and the computer screeched at me: too big! too big!

Nevertheless. This is the largest I could make this chunk.  I think it gives a sense of the scale of the actual Earth.  It is not a small world.

I decided to include those parts of my map which are in the process of being created - I thought this might help demonstrate that things are always in progress, always moving forward.  The work I do on my world is never static.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hiro Rule

“Thinking With the Wrong Head”: No matter what they are accused of or how mysterious their origins, the hero will always be ready to fight to the death for any girl they met three seconds ago.

Quite some time ago, I wrote a rather frothing rant about heroism and D&D, and I find myself with this particular cliché forced to cover some of that ground over again. My argument at that time was that the player was not a hero. The response made it quite clear that many people wanted to be heroes - and that I was insensitive to that position.

So much for old times.

It is this stupid cliché above, this nonsensical knight in shining armor perspective on women, that says they have to be protected and that it takes a DUDE to do it, that frankly sickens me. But mostly it is that DMs (and the makers of RPG games) rely so fundamentally on this testicle-generated motivation … I mean, I don’t mind bringing up love in a game, or even pushing a player to accept lust as something they have no control over - but I don’t expect players to sacrifice their character (which has tangible qualities) for girlie NPCs (which don’t).

But - and I hate to admit this - I probably could.

My experience has been that it's shooting fish in a barrel to get a group of nerdy RPGers to rescue chicks from … wherever. I don’t know why. Not getting enough, I guess. It must be that every player needs a “rescued the princess” war story to tell at some mythical gathering of players at some convention or other. As a DM, you introduce the girl, introduce the villain, have the villain openly insult the player and then flit off with the girl (who is sweet and cute and wouldn’t say shit if her mouth was full of it) … and you have a ready adventure.


What is it that turns so many cloistered pud-pounding virgins into macho shitheads the first time they get a chance to roleplay? Very often I’ve had to admit to myself (and to either of my wives) that it is probably for the best that some nerds are rather socially leprous and bad smelling. If they had girlfriends, they’d probably hit them.

That … was pretty low. But if you’re taking umbrage at it, I think you’re ready for a really close look in the mirror. Given the number of times I can remember being at a gaming table and seeing the way the one girl player was treated (an odd combination of condescension and hopeful lip service), I can’t believe that every player who is out there can’t see there being a problem with a certain species of player who must identify so strongly with the squashing-monsters-for-chicks perpective of the game. The console manufacturers make money from it, the film industry make money from it … I’m only laying it out here as it works in the real world.

It isn’t, however, as though the women themselves who play this game identify particularly with the Virgin Connie Swail. They seem just as enriched by blood lust as the men, moderated perhaps by having somewhat less need to save innocents to gratify their egos. Women players play backstabbing thieves, murderous assassins, ball-busting rangers and fire-sacrificing clerics with all the aplomb and taste for rampage as their sexual counterparts … so what is it with all the purity crap?

You should have noticed by now that the cliché quoted above never says that the women the heros are fighting for ARE, in fact, innocent. There is a subtext, however - that it is assumed somehow that no matter what they may be, they are still presumed to be innocent, and therefore to be fought for. Somehow, this hero mindset makes every woman, however presented, necessarily pure … simply because I, Clodd of Oatenchew, shall not let her die!

For shit’s sake.


It’s been a wild four days, and what with the online/offline campaigns, there hasn’t been much chance to work on the traditional blog posting ... but it isn’t that I don’t have things to write about. I certainly do.

The offline campaign just finished a ‘quest’ ... if you want to call it that. They managed to complete a small task that they had taken on, and they were rewarded for it - and for a week now they’ve been trying to decide what to do next. They have, I think, settled on a course of action, the one which I confess was the one I would have preferred myself. And so this gets me thinking about solicitation in a sandbox world. Yes, that’s right. I’m a hooker.

Last week I wrote that it did some good for a party to be bored once in awhile, and I stand by that ... although it can be particularly brutal if the party is so used to being led around by the nose that they’ll gladly have the piercing done for the nose ring and tie off the lead themselves. It takes a decent period of practice for a player to get used to following their own lead, without going nuts from the boredom.

The other side of that, something that’s been far more prevalent with the online players - because they can’t see my face, or hear my voice, as I’m describing things - is the concern that they are getting into something that’s going to kill them. Thus, when I establish a hook, I have to be careful to keep it as ‘friendly’ as possible.

I did not master the art of hooking through RPGs, but almost exclusively through the writing I always did alongside participating in D&D. Without question, the latter took its cues from the former. Writing is the practice of creating more than just one hook at the beginning of the story ... but other hooks, thrown in as often as possible without overwhelming the reader. Every character is a hook; settings are often hooks; and of course the antagonist’s actions are meant to pull the protagonist along until the story reaches a conclusion (where the hooks are resolved, hopefully).

Applying that art to D&D is a snap - if you understand that human curiosity needs far, far less to arouse its interest than the sort of blatant, obvious hooks which are to be found in common action movies - and RPG modules. You do not need the government or some rich fellow to recruit the players; there need not be some unlikely mistaken identity; the characters do not need to find themselves in the middle of a firefight (though I did that in a novel once, shame on me) ... these things may work for early Eastwood and Connery films, but honestly they’ve become so anvilicious they hurt when applied to a subtle sandbox campaign.

The more subtle you can be, the less oppressive the hook is ... particularly if it is sold very strongly on the privilege of the player to say no. “Do you want to follow me up the mountain?” as a question asked by a passing stranger is much more preferable to, “Your king has sent me to demand that you must go up this mountain.” Get rid of the taint of authority; change demand to request (and mean it!); exchange the word ‘must’ for the word ‘can.’ It is as simple as that.

Anvilicious approach: the players see two men in the street exchanging a package, with one saying, “Don’t let anyone see this - the Queen’s life depends on it!” The other man mounts his horse, and heads pell mell down the street.

Subtle approach: the players see two men in the street exchange a very small handshake - one has a small, open cut on the back of his hand, which drips a single drop of blood onto the street. No one else seems to have noticed. As the bleeding man walks away, he limps.

The first is so clear that the DM wants the party to follow that they roll their eyes, anticipating the planned event which is sure to follow. The second, they can lean back in their chairs and ask, what was that about?

Even at this, I’m being heavy handed. It wouldn’t be necessary for the party to see anything more than a dried blood stain on the back of the man’s knee, as he limped away. From that simple premise, I can add clue after clue until the party HAS to figure out what the hell is going on. Eye rolling is kept to a minimum.

In just this way, with waving a small white flag instead of a giant red one, I can often manoeuvre a party towards a particular goal ... always remembering, as it is my philosophy, that they can let the bleeding man walk past, turn to their buddies and ask instead, “Anyone read a good scroll lately?”

Monday, April 5, 2010


Just a quick, additional note about currency; there always seems to be just one more thing.

The online campaign recently came across a copper coin that was identified as being more than 1,000 years old ... and sold it for 672 times its monetary value (56 x.p. in my world).  This made this one copper coin, normally worth 1/192nd of an experience point, worth 3 experience.

It is worth noting - for those people considering the economics of their world - that while there are a great many things that can be considered treasure, and that the amount of gold or workmanship in the item is relevant to that item's worth, there is also the matter of rarity.

Now supposing that the party had found a chest of such coins, containing perhaps a thousand of them - it would be usual for someone to point out that this haul would diminish the cost of each additional coin.  In fact, no.  You understand, my world has in excess of 150,000,000 people living on it.  The difference between 1 coin, and 1,000 coins, against that sort of potential demand, is negligent.  A dealer finding himself with a thousand very old coins would have no trouble selling all of them at a high price.  In fact, he could guarantee for himself a higher price, since he could sell a few immediately, giving himself funds to seek out particularly desirous candidates for the coins ... even easier in a world where communications are negligent, and the king of Sweden would be unlikely to know that the sultan of Baku had other similar coins to sell.

Just a thought.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Aegean Sea

I'm just throwing this map up because I have a player interested in the online campaign, who wishes to start in Greece.  And since I haven't put up a map for awhile, I decided to put it here instead of on the campaign blog, so that the gentle reader might enjoy it.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Doomed Hometown

So, that went fairly well. Let’s try another one.

“No! My beloved peasant village!”: The hero’s home town, city, slum or planet will usually be annihilated in a spectacular fashion before the end of the game, and often before the end of the opening scene.

Let me just say, I never saw Alderaan. I don’t know how beautiful a planet it was, I never sat down and had tea with any of the people who lived there, I really had no attachment to the place at all. When it blew up, I suppose I had a very similar thought to other people: “That was pretty cool.”

And now even the explosion was pretty lame.

Going down the list on TV Tropes, I never did have much concern for any of those poor sacrificed, burnt or butchered people in any of those movies – except that I thought Conan’s mom was pretty hot. I prefer not to see hot chicks beheaded in movies. In this case, however, it was done so artistically I am ready to make an exception.

My point is this. I am a character in your world, and you have just had my village decimated (though that doesn’t mean what people think it means), eradicated, eviscerated or expurgated ... why should I care? I didn’t grow up with any of these people as my parents, I don’t have memories of being picked up and soothed after stabbing myself in the foot with a sharp stick, none of them taught me anything about the Gods. Sure, Conan had memories like that, and I can reflect and relate to Conan ... but my character in your world isn’t the subject of a major motion picture and there are no important memory sequences between my character and his dad before his dad gets butchered by brigands. So why are you wasting your time trying to create this motivation for me?

Most of the time DMs are unsurprisingly ready to destroy towns, cities, kingdoms – whatever it takes to evoke an visceral reaction from their players. Now, this is not the sort of thing I am at all interested in. For me, it’s going to be pretty fucking hard to explain just where the hell Germany went – particularly as it is still there after tanks and bombers blew the shit out of the country from end to end for four years. Pieces of land, ethnic entities and so on are surprisingly resilient. Even cities. Want to guess how many times Rome was gutted by fire and pillaged? And yet the Coliseum is still there. Go figure.

In D&D, of course, there’s never anything left except a hole. Or a expanse of burnt field. There are never any survivors, as fire literally rained from the heavens and if the gods don’t want survivors, there are no survivors. That’s how it goes.

And still the players look at all this wanton destruction, and go “meh.” Or even better, “Well fellas, we’ll be drinkin’ Saturday nights at the next town over.”

But break a minor possession of one player, say an ‘egg-cup of mediocre healing,’ enabling an increase of 1 hp of healing per day if the player takes the time to soft boil an egg ... and the villainous cretin who “Done broke my eggcup!” will be pursued to the ends of the world. Players relate to things they, well, that they relate to. Personal, treasured things, often the cuter the better. That egg-cup will mean much more to them than a +2 sword, since +2 swords are a dime a dozen once you drop below dungeon level five, but where the hell are they going to get another egg-cup like that? “I loved that egg-cup,” the character will moan at regular intervals, until all the other players scream at them to shut up!

The destruction of the village/town/planet or what have you is a sign of dreaded overkill, and quite frankly evidence of a bad writer, who has failed to recognize that we actually don’t spend a lot of time reflecting on the value of our country or hometown. Yes, we’re told we ought to do so, it is something we are propagandized to do ... and we probably would deeply regret having said entity blown all to hell. But this is something that doesn’t even translate very well into an alternative real entity, when it isn’t ours. Not living in New York, my sense of loss about the Two Towers is pretty much all second hand. I know there are people out there who miss them awfully; but for me, who has seen them on one occasion, the most it means to me comes when I see them in a movie made before 2001. I’m not connected to them in the way that a New Yorker is – and even though a New Yorker feels that I ought to be, just as I ought to love everything about New York simply because it IS New York ... I really don’t feel much of anything. I’m not even American, so I have trouble identifying with the whole “They attacked us!” mind set. Yes, they attacked Americans. They didn’t attack me.

It’s worse with fictional destruction. You want to destroy something fictional, you better spend more than a little time relating it to me, personally. I’m saying that a few establishing shots of Alderaan might have made a difference. It might have made the planet more than just a big ball.

Help me. Make the village my friend, first. Demonstrate its importance to me. Make me care. Otherwise, you might just as well leave the damn thing standing there.

And besides, it might not have occurred to you ... but the greater the permanency you establish with elements of your world, the greater the effect will be when, maybe years later, you do destroy that village. I may actually care by then.